Select Committee on European Communities Eighth Report


  9.    We now summarise the main points which emerged in evidence from four viewpoints-those of the Government, of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), of statutory environmental protection and nature conservation agencies, and of the water industry and its customers.


Explanatory Memorandum (Appendix 3)

  10.    For the Government, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) has welcomed the broad aims and scope of the draft Directive, including the approach based on river basins, which will fit well with existing United Kingdom practice, and the proposals to rationalise and streamline monitoring arrangements, provided they are properly targeted and do not go beyond the legitimate interests of the Commission and the European Environment Agency. The Department does, however, have several concerns over the proposals as currently drafted-in particular the lack of any clear definition of the nature of the environmental objectives to be achieved by 2010 and the implications of Article 12 (on cost recovery through charges).

  11.    The Department also welcomes the use of quality objectives for water bodies and the "combined approach" to pollution control (the complementary use of environmental quality standards and emission limit values for discharges). These too accord well with United Kingdom practice. However the Department considers that precise definition of environmental objectives is fundamental to the proposals and must therefore be considered by Member States prior to agreement of the Directive and not left to the Management Committee. In particular, clarity of definition is essential to a proper assessment of costs and benefits, to ensure proportionality between the measures proposed and their impact on the environment.

  12.    The Department intends to probe further the precise intentions of the provisions on charging and cost recovery, since they have implications which extend beyond purely environmental and economic considerations; they also raise questions of subsidiarity.

  13.    On subsidiarity generally, the Department considers that the proposals reflect the balance of responsibilities between authorities at regional, national and Community level, working to common principles within an overall framework but leaving Member States to determine how best to achieve the objectives set by the Directive. But further clarification will be sought in negotiations.

Oral Evidence from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  14.    In oral evidence, DETR officials made it clear that in a number of respects incoming Ministers had not yet formed a considered view on the proposals: much of what they had to say, therefore, was by way of amplification of the Explanatory Memorandum.

  15.    The Department confirmed that implementation of the Directive would not require major changes to the administrative arrangements already in place, through the Environment Agency in England and Wales, and that there was sufficient flexibility to accommodate the rather different arrangements in Scotland and Northern Ireland (Q 4). They were satisfied that the Drinking Water and Bathing Water Directives were properly integrated into the framework Directive and that it was logical to keep them as separate pieces of legislation (QQ 12-14). On the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (which also would remain free-standing) there was a question whether its provisions would prove sufficient for achieving the quality standards of the framework Directive-depending how they were set (Q 27). On the matter of recovery of environmental costs, the requirements of Article 12 of the draft Directive appeared to be less flexible and assumed a more dominant role for the Commission compared with the corresponding passage in the Commission's Explanatory Memorandum, which implied greater discretion for Member States to decide how far it was appropriate or practical to seek full recovery: this reflected more accurately the position which the Government would be arguing for in the negotiations (QQ 31, 47).

  16.    The Department felt that the draft proposed too powerful a role for the Management Committee, taking it into areas of policy which were properly for Member States to determine. They suggested that there should be, in parallel to the discussions and negotiations in the Council Working Group[10], at least one group (possibly more than one) of experts, drawn from each of the Member States, who would discuss and try to bring forward proposals on "statuses" and quality standards, for consideration in turn by the Working Group. Membership from the United Kingdom could include representatives of the statutory agencies, including English Nature (QQ 37, 41). Ministers had not yet taken a view on how far it would be appropriate to provide public access to the proceedings of such a group, but officials envisaged some form of "structured involvement" of NGOs and others (Q 42). Clarification would be sought in the negotiations of the role of the European Environment Agency-for example, the links between its existing work in setting up a freshwater monitoring network and the processes to be gone through under the framework Directive (Q 46).

  17.    Ministers had endorsed the previous administration's initiative in asking the water industry to review the sources of water and to determine, with the help of the Environment Agency, sustainable yields; they would also be proceeding with a review of abstraction licensing, which among other things could cover ways of recovering environmental costs, for which charging the consumer was not the only option (QQ 47-50).   

10   A group of officials from Member States' governments which prepares the ground for the Council of Ministers by discussing a proposal from the Commission and, so far as possible, resolving points of disagreement or obscurity before it is considered by the Council. Back

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